Brian Coley doesn't consider himself a chef – he says he only recently decided to put it on his business card – but he's the owner and, until recently, executive chef of Coley's American Bistro in Columbia, Missouri.
Coley is Columbia born and raised, and he attended the University of Missouri-Columbia to pursue a degree in hotel and restaurant management. While in school, he had what he refers to as "a wild idea:" Why not open up a restaurant of his own? Just about five months after he graduated in May 2008, that wild idea became Coley's American Bistro.
Coley has never been professionally trained, but he says he's always cooked, he enjoys cooking, and most of all, he loves food. Plus, he loves the hospitality part of the restaurant business. "I like the aspect of hosting people," he says.
He's proud to be a business owner and to put money back into the community, but he says that it is particularly special to do it in his hometown. "It just makes me feel more rooted in the community," he says.
We caught up with him about fresh herbs, Spanish tapas and his former dislike of steak.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Fresh herbs add enormous depth of flavor and have the ability to elevate any dish.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Yes, it is a secret.
What's your perfect day of eating in Columbia? My wife's waffles for breakfast. Burgers at Booches for lunch. With two young children, we tend to make our choices around them. So, weather permitting, Katfish Katy's for dinner because of their fantastic open and outdoor venue. If the kids are not tagging along, Murry's for dinner. That is just one of the lineups that we enjoy!
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? It seems as though a lot of smaller places are popping up. Great little boutique eateries with niche menus. I think it is a really cool aspect of our local food scene.
Who are some Columbia chefs you admire at the moment? Josh Smith and Ben Parks from Barred Owl Butcher [& Table]. I really like their concept. Product is fantastic.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Columbia? Spanish tapas. I worked in a Spanish restaurant through high school and into college. I love the tapas concept and I really dig Spanish cuisine.
What’s your favorite comfort food? I really enjoy mac 'n' cheese, pizza – homemade is best, and I'd be lying if I didn't add burgers and brats.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Use fresh ingredients. Stay away from the spice cabinet at all costs - most of it is probably way too old anyway! The end product is only as good as the ingredients you use.
What is your first food memory? I would be lying if I gave you a definitive answer. It's definitely not my first food memory, but I remember the disappointment when my parents would grill steaks because I just didn't enjoy eating steak. That is furthest from the truth today!
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? Our new chef, Emilee Oliver, created mini corn dogs using sausage made from brisket and beef tenderloin bits. It was a clever and resourceful idea made on the fly.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? I like to cook how I like to eat. It usually begins with something I see in another restaurant. Many times, I find myself most inspired on vacation, which makes it hard to forget about work!
At Coley's, we try to involve anyone on staff who wants to be involved in creating new items. I believe there are many benefits to encouraging collaboration on new items. If for nothing else, it builds a sense of teamwork and family.
What are your future plans? Continue to adapt to trends and customer feedback at Coley's. I'm always looking for the next opportunity to present itself.
Coley's American Bistro, 15 S. Sixth Street, Columbia, Missouri, 573.442.8887, coleysamericanbistro.com